This week marks the 10th Anniversary of Mother 3, Shigesato Itoi's third and final instalment in the Mother series and the follow up to EarthBound that, unfortunately, never saw the light of day outside of its native homeland. Since that day ten years ago we've seen hopes dashed, rumours (some of them recent) circulate, fan projects born and distant glimmers of hope materialise. Never in the history of the medium - arguably - has a Japan-only title received such a demand for a Western release. After a turbulent ten years, will Mother 3 ever see that fabled official release?
The title's foundations began in 1994 as a follow up to Mother 2 (EarthBound). By late 2000, Mother 3's journey had spanned three consoles, beginning development on the Super Famicom before transitioning to the Nintendo 64 and eventually the Nintendo 64 DD add-on. Mother 3's difficulties eventually culminated in a devastating KO to the RPG, and after a little over a quarter of the title's completion it was scrapped altogether. In a rather telling developer interview that touched on the countless issues the team underwent, Itoi stated - "Of course I have a lot guilt. I had players ask me every single day when the game was coming out. I'm sorry. I've failed you." Itoi didn't let that failure or culpability deter him from keeping the dream alive, and spurred on by the eagerness and passion of the fans Mother 3 was revived once more. With the help of Brownie Brown (now 1-Up Studio), development of Mother 3 shifted over to the Game Boy Advance. Gone were the polygons and Wild West setting of the original rendition, and in its place was a title much more reminiscent of its predecessor.
With the title eventually releasing in Japan on the GBA on April 20th 2006, over a year after the release of the Nintendo DS in North America, Nintendo understandably opted out of releasing such a niche title overseas on a handheld system losing ground to its successor. With the underwhelming reception EarthBound's American release received - in terms of sales - as context, Nintendo was undoubtedly deterred from giving the game a global release, and Mother 3 was seen as a glove that solely fit the hand of the Japanese market. The Mother fan community was not to be defeated, however, and in November 2006 - led by Clyde "Tomato" Mandelin - Starmen.net announced plans for its own fan translation. After almost two years of hard work a translation patch was released in October 2008 and was immensely popular within the first week - with the patch being downloaded 100,000 times in the first week alone.
While the fan translation was a masterful piece of work, with every line of dialogue painstakingly translated as faithfully as possible, its reach was still limited - and it never quelled the hopes of an eventual official release onto Nintendo hardware. In the years following the Japanese release there was never any indication that such a release would ever happen. While it will always be speculation, there are a number of potential reasons behind the lack of a Western release, even as a downloadable title for the Virtual Console (it's already on the Wii U VC in Japan).
Despite its child-friendly aesthetics, Mother 3 deals with a number of incredibly mature themes: Death, Sexuality, Drug Use, Animal Cruelty, Capitalism, Militaristic Dictatorships, the threat of an advancing technological age, Industrialisation, Playing God, not to mention an overlying sense of impending doom. Heavy stuff! Not exactly what one would expect from your traditional "kid-friendly" Nintendo title. While these are all tackled tastefully - preventing Mother 3 from ever becoming bleak or difficult to digest - the idea of localising so many risqué themes was sure to have dissuaded Nintendo from releasing the title outside of Japan, especially given Nintendo of America's history with localising Japanese material and a use of censorship for anything deemed "inappropriate".
There have also been a number of comparisons drawn between in-game music and copyrighted material. Itoi is well known for letting his passions bleed into his work, and this is usually most noticeable through the soundtrack, with the Beatles particularly being a source of inspiration for Itoi and his choice of musical accompaniment. Where some see tunes as innocent tributes influenced by Itoi's musical heroes, more legal minded individuals may see cause for court action - a fiasco Nintendo would like to avoid altogether.
Perhaps most importantly, up until the past few years, demand for Mother 3's release simply wasn't big enough. There has always been a cult following of the franchise since the release of EarthBound in North America back in 1994, but did Nintendo see any profit whatsoever in releasing Mother 3 in the West? Probably not. For the first time in its history, though, that is certainly shifting. With the frequent inclusion of Lucas in the Smash Bros. series, Virtual Console releases of EarthBound and the recent arrival of EarthBound Beginnings (Mother 1), the series is now more relevant than it has ever been in the West. Rarely would a figurine of a protagonist from an unreleased title be released onto the market, but we have seen Lucas characterised in amiibo form. Undoubtedly an unusual decision, unless Nintendo has something up its sleeve.
Those who are unfamiliar with Mother 3 may be wondering - "What's all the fuss about? Why is a ten year old Japanese GBA title quite so in demand?". Mother 3 serves as one of the most deep, mature, thought-provoking and shocking narratives Nintendo has ever released, all glossed over with the usual charm and brightly coloured visuals one would expect from its titles. Throw in a bit of typically Japanese slapstick comedy and a fun battle system, Mother 3 single handedly deflates the popular (and baseless) argument that Nintendo only produces child-friendly products. Able to make you laugh and cry in equal measure, the third instalment in the series balances humour and sorrow like they go hand-in-hand. Lucas and his twin brother Claus personify the complex themes of the title perfectly. Youthfulness and maturity, hope and despair, life and death - all set against a fantastical backdrop that resembles an amalgamation of Japanese and American culture, with Dragons, Pigmasked Men and Flying Whatchamacallit's thrown in for good measure.
Though Mother 3's battle system is probably its weakest point, it did things that are still fairly unique and downright enjoyable to this day. Most notable are audio-based attacks, effectively a musical rhythm-game built into the battle system. When landing a hit, timing button mashes into the beat of the theme music allows for a chain of (often devastating) combo attacks. This feature may have become rather trite had it been set to the same battle-theme time and time again, but the multiple tunes used for the large and varied amount of enemies keep the battles fresh, enjoyable and requiring a greater sense of attention. This battle system almost serves as a game-within-a-game, making encounters with enemies and grinding much more appealing than in Mother 3's predecessors.
Mother 3 also features the most lovable, diverse and expressive cast of characters that the series had seen. Compared to EarthBound's cast of relatively unostentatious children, Mother 3's playable roster features a young boy battling adversity, a lovable Thief with a crippled leg but a good heart, a Cowboy gripped by grief and loss, an abused and love-sick Monkey, a brash tomboy Princess, and a loyal family Dog. The non-playable characters have much bigger personalities too, not simply serving as your usual JRPG blank-faced extras offering useless advice and confusingly vague statements, but each with a background and a story to tell that ties into the overall narrative.
Should fans of the series get their hopes up? It's not advisable, given the past decade. The "Western release" (or lack of) has become a trope among fans, and a subject of humour (even among Nintendo itself if one recalls past E3 presentations). Constant rumours and hopes of a Western release have been met with coy responses from Nintendo, which happily acknowledges the demand but gives little in the way of reassurances. Never in the title's history, however, has Mother 3 celebrated a significant landmark such as a 10th Anniversary, with the series never being as relevant in the West; it's already landed on the Virtual Console in Japan in late 2015, too. If a game is to receive a worldwide re-release, what better time?
When one considers the Virtual Console release of last year's "Earthbound Zero / Beginnings" (Mother 1) in the West, a title that (while always welcome) has never received the demand Mother 3 has - Mother 3 seems like even more of an inevitability. It is now the only entry in Itoi's trilogy to remain a Japanese-only release, and it's arguably the strongest title of the series. Respected tipsters have also dropped numerous hints about a localisation and a release to coincide with the 10th Anniversary. It all sounds too good to be true, but we've all come a very long way - surely anything is possible.
Should Mother 3 be ever officially released in English, it will be interesting to see if the RPG remains in its original form, or if the dialogue, themes and music will be heavily adjusted. One thing's almost certain - Nintendo is unlikely to use the already perfected fan translation, and would be sure to let its own localisation teams deal with the matter. Anyone following Nintendo's recent Western releases will know this is an area of great debate and controversy, but if Mother 3 is to succeed outside of Japan and be fully appreciated for what is is, it will need to remain as faithful to the original Japanese release as possible; it is the themes, dialogue and storyline that make Mother 3 so wonderfully individual.
The experience one receives from playing Mother 3 is far too rich for the title to be confined to the "What If..." section of Nintendo's history. It serves as one of the most unique, wholesome and enjoyable RPG's anyone is likely to play. Mother 3 isn't just a typical JRPG – it is a lovingly crafted tale that explores a number of difficult and often untouched themes in the video game medium.
Sure, we have the ability to seek out the game in English already, and many dedicated gamers have done so. Mother 3 had a profound affect on me when I first played it, and still does to this day. Unfortunately, the reach of a game requiring emulation and fan translation patches is limited, meaning that only a tiny section of an otherwise huge fanbase get to enjoy it. With fans eager to hand over money for an official translation, we can only hope one eventually sees the light of day. After all, it was the fan's desires that kept Mother 3 alive – just maybe those hopes can see it released once more.